Viewing Room Main Site
Skip to content
Glimpse Into Jeffrey Gibson’s Historic US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

By Valentina Di Liscia

“Birds flying high, you know how I feel …” The opening line of the song Feeling Good, popularized in the mid-1960s by Nina Simone as an anthem of Black joy and resilience in the wake of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, is the fitting title of one of multiple murals by Jeffrey Gibson for the United States Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Gibson, the first Native artist to represent the US in a solo capacity at the international contemporary art exhibition, likewise brings resounding echoes of resistance amid an enduring struggle for Indigenous autonomy across the American continents.

A monumental bright-red sculpture of stepped pedestals against a geometric backdrop and flags mounted on teepee poles graces the entrance, where visitors can appreciate the Cherokee and Choctaw artist’s hybrid visual lexicon of Native and queer iconographies. On preview day, performers enacted a traditional jingle dress dance atop the podium-like structure, which visitors are now invited to climb and activate. Inside, beadwork sculptures that impress us with their technical intricacy take on a tone of subversion through the inclusion of language drawn from US founding documents, materials that represent at once promise and failure.

The space in which to place me was co-commissioned by Kathleen Ash-Milby, curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum (PMA); Abigail Winograd, who co-directs the arts program at Centro Romero in Chicago, an organization supporting the local immigrant community; and Louis Grachos, the director of SITE Santa Fe.

It’s worth remembering that the legacy of Native representation in the US pavilion dates to 1932, when works by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and Pueblo artist Ma Pe Wi, among others, were featured in a group presentation. Other Native individuals, notably curator Nancy Marie Mithlo (Fort Sill Chiricahua Apache), have helped ensure Indigenous presence in Biennale collateral events throughout the years.

Photo by Avedis Hadjian